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Monday, February 16, 2015

Westbrook Leads West to 163-158 All-Star Game Victory

Russell Westbrook came out firing, pouring in 27 first half points in just 11 minutes, en route to scoring 41 points in 25 minutes as his Western Conference All-Stars defeated the Eastern Conference All-Stars 163-158. He shot 16-28 from the field, including 11-15 in his blazing hot first half. Westbrook set the All-Star Game record for points and field goals in a half and he fell just one point shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain's 1962 single game All-Star scoring mark. Westbrook also had five rebounds and a team-high three steals in an impressive, energetic and explosive display of his all-around basketball skill set.

Yes, this is just an exhibition game but it is also an exhibition game featuring the league's greatest players and in the 64 year history of the contest the list of players who previously cracked the 40 point barrier is short and includes, arguably, the two most dominant scoring machines that pro basketball has ever seen: Chamberlain scored 42 points as his East squad lost 150-130 in 1962 (the West's Bob Pettit won the MVP with 25 points and 27 rebounds) and Michael Jordan earned the MVP after scoring 40 points in front of his home Chicago fans while leading the East to a 138-133 victory in 1988.

LeBron James battled Westbrook for the MVP, leading the East in scoring with 30 points while adding seven assists and five rebounds. The East outscored the West by one point when James was on the court; Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague was the only other East player with a positive plus/minus number (three), but Teague only played 13:27 while James logged nearly 32 minutes. James has now scored 278 points in NBA All-Star competition, moving past Jordan (262) and now ranking second only to Kobe Bryant (280), though it should be noted that Julius Erving holds the ABA/NBA All-Star record with 321 points.

Reigning regular season MVP Kevin Durant scored just three points in 10 minutes, but James Harden picked up the slack for the West with 29 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points in 18 minutes, connecting on all four of his three point attempts. Stephen Curry contributed 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while DeMarcus Cousins scored 14 points on 6-7 field goal shooting.

Kyle Korver ranked second in scoring for the East with 21 points, doing all of his damage from beyond the arc. John Wall added 19 points and seven assists. East starting forward Carmelo Anthony made a bid for MVP honors for the West, bricking his way to 14 points on 6-20 field goal shooting.

The 2015 NBA All-Star Game was a shootout from start to finish as the teams tied the All-Star Game record for point in a half (165 in the first half) and set a new record with 321 total points. Korver and Harden each shot 7-12 from three point range as the teams combined to make 48 three pointers, obliterating the record of 30 set last year.

Anyone who suggests that defense is not emphasized during the NBA regular season and playoffs should look no further than this game to refute that oft-repeated but tired and inaccurate notion; the high level of defense typically played in the NBA is best demonstrated by looking at what happens when most of the players are operating on cruise control at that end of the court: if teams did not focus on defense then the game scores would regularly reach 140, 150 and even 160 points, because NBA players are just that talented.

Although some enjoyment can be derived from watching great players score with amazing dunks and heat check three pointers, I agree with Julius Erving that the All-Star Games were better when the defensive intensity was more consistent. It is possible to have fun, entertain the fans and not get hurt while still competing at both ends of the court. Other than three overtime contests (1980, 1984, 1987), only one team scored at least 140 points during Erving's 11 NBA All-Star appearances (West, 1985). The winning team topped 140 points three times in Erving's five All-Star appearances in the ABA, which featured a more wide-open style of play.

Like many people, most of my favorite All-Star Game memories will probably always date back to my youth, but I also enjoyed the six All-Star Games that I covered in person (my recaps of the 2005-2010 All-Star Weekends can be found in the right hand sidebar of 20 Second Timeout's home page) and I still consider the All-Star Game must-see TV because of the sheer talent that the event showcases.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:12 AM

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